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Six good reasons to go flower hunting

On a field trip with my WWF colleagues in early August, I was lucky enough to witness Mother Nature unfurling her spring bounty around the little inland town of Nieuwoudtville where WWF has been working hard to conserve a unique botanical heritage.

Bulbinella nutans, commonly called katstert, was one of the beautiful sights we came across near Nieuwoudtville.
© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
Bulbinella nutans, commonly called katstert, was one of the beautiful sights we came across near Nieuwoudtville.

For this trip I was tagging along with my WWF colleagues who were heading to a meeting of the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP), a partnership that WWF has been party to since 2002. SKEP’s vision is for the people of the Succulent Karoo to take ownership of and enjoy their unique living landscape in a way that maintains biodiversity and improves livelihoods. Happily the SKEP meeting coincided with the first spring flowers of the year.

1. Enjoy the vistas

To get to Nieuwoudtville from the N7 you have to drive up the Vanrhyns Pass to the top of the Roggeveld plateau. The view site is a good place to take a break from your journey and to contemplate how vast, beautiful and fragile this landscape is. This whole area falls into a much larger biome called the Succulent Karoo stretching all the way to southern Namibia.

© Creative Commons/Martin Heigan
At the top of the Vanrhyns Pass you can look down on the plains below with Gifberg in the distance.
2. Explore the Hantam Botanical Garden

It was once a sheep farm called Glenlyon which was owned by visionary nature lover Neil MacGregor. When Neil retired and his children didn’t want to take over the farm, the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust – through WWF – helped to secure this land to form the first wildflower national botanical garden in South Africa. There are nine trails laid out here for visitors who can see the flowers close-up for themselves.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
Eugene Marinus has been the curator of the Hantam Botanical Garden since its inception in December 2008.
3. Meet the pollinators

Long-tongued flies, oil collecting bees, solitary bees, bee flies, monkey beetles… all names of the extraordinary creatures that help to pollinate the flora of this area. When you visit, take time to learn more about the amazing interactions and evolution of these pollinators and their plants. A good example is that of the Diascias (commonly called twinspurs or horinkies in Afrikaans) which offer oil as a reward to oil collecting bees which have co-evolved with them.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
The Diascia whiteheadii is pollinated by the oil collecting bee, the Rediviva longimanus. It has unusually long forelegs which it sticks into the spurs to reach the oil inside. You can see why this flower’s Afrikaans name is gemsbokhorinkie.
4. Walk a trail at Avontuur

Avontuur is 1300-hectare property which WWF bought 10 years ago to preserve its 503 recorded plant species. It’s also a work-in-progress to restore land degraded by poor agricultural practices and to show how sustainable agriculture and conservation can co-exist. There are a hundred ewes that graze on the farm and garlic is cultivated for sale at a farmer’s market in Cape Town. Biodiversity corridors have been created where the sheep may only graze in summer after the flowers have gone to seed, and ongoing work is being done to stop erosion and remove alien vegetation. There are also three new walking trails on the farm.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
Avontuur gives rise to the Grasberg River, the source of the famous Nieuwoudtville Waterfall, 7km outside the town.
5. Seek out the satynblom

One of the highlights of an afternoon at Avontuur was seeing the Romulea sabulosa, commonly known as the satynblom. You can see why this flower’s red, silky sheen has made it a botanical icon for Nieuwoudtville as this is the only place in the world it grows. There are many other special species here, like the orange Bulbinella doleritica which can only be found in the dolerite koppies of the Hantam Botanical Garden.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
The satynblom grows in light clay soil called tillite. Other soil types in the area are sandstone and dolerite and each hosts its own unique community of plants.
6. Pass through succulent central

One of SKEP’s major successes has been the creation of the provincial Knersvlakte Nature Reserve which lies on the plains below the Roggeveld plateau. With some 90 000 hectares put into conservation through WWF and the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust, the Knersvlakte’s characteristic white quartzite gravel provides a refuge to a dazzling array of succulents. But you’ll need to visit in the company of an expert to know what you’re looking for.  

© WWF South Africa/Jan Coetzee
There is a little succulent plant lurking in this picture that goes by the common name of Doodsoek nenta (Tylecodon occultans). Can you spot it?
What to do in an around Nieuwoudtville

  • Explore the Hantam Botancial Garden’s nine trails on foot or by bicycle with a trail brochure in hand. Alternatively, you can book a safari on the Hantam Explorer and benefit from the first-hand knowledge of experts.
  • Autumn is known as the “secret season” here because this is when the March lily (Brunsvigea bosmaniae) puts on a spectacular display, rainfall permitting.
  • The trails at Avontuur are open to the public by appointment. Choose from the River Route (30 minutes), Fynbos (5 to 6 hours) and Vista (3 to 4 hours). To make a booking, email dryland@global.co.za or call 083 693 8676.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
The old farm ruin on the outskirts of Nieuwoudtville is a popular stop for photographers.
Andrea Weiss Photo
Andrea Weiss, Media Manager

Andrea is a former journalist and travel editor and now a media manager with WWF who wants to save the planet. Don’t we all?

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